Clemson tops Feist's Top 40 list

Clemson tops Feist's Top 40 list

August 29, 2018 3:01 AM
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College football began with a few games last Saturday. Here’s a look at the top teams, finishing with my top 1-21. National Title and Conference odds listed as well.

20. Central Florida

300-1; AAC 5/4

Returning Starters: 12

(6 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 13-0

Projected Finish: 12-0

If not for a weak American West conference and schedule, I would rate UCF higher than 20. However, with just a couple of tough opponents on the schedule, a perfect 12-0 season isn’t out of the question. The Knights finished a perfect 2017 with their impressive win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. New HC Josh Heupel will inherit a very good offensive club. QB McKenzie Milton is back after throwing for over 4,000 yards last season. The defense lost five starters and that will hurt, but they also get Alabama transfer Aaron Robinson at corner. It looks like the schedule will be kind so another undefeated season and American Conference Championship.

19. Florida State

40-1; ACC 7-1

Returning Starters: 12

(8 offense, 4 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-5

Projected Finish: 7-5

FSU has a new start this season with first-year coach Willie Taggart at the helm. Gone is Jimbo Fisher, who has departed for Texas A&M. Taggart inherits a very talented team, but the schedule is going to be tough and his biggest obstacle. There is a fight for starting QB between Deondre Francois and James Blackmon. However, there are plenty of weapons with RB Cam Akers and WR Nyqwan Murray plus some younger players all ready to step in and contribute. The defense has only four returning starters along with being young and inexperienced, but with Harlon Barnett as the new DC there is hope this unit will rise to the challenge. I don’t expect to see much improvement in the final record, but the Seminoles will only get better as time goes on.

18. Miami, Fla.

30-1; ACC 7/2

Returning Starters: 14

(7 offense, 7 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Projected Finish: 9-3

Miami looked like the powerhouse of old when they jumped out to a 10-0 record and No. 2 ranking in the country. Then the wheels fell off with three straight losses including the Orange Bowl setback to Wisconsin. QB Malik Rosier is back, but there are some young QB’s behind him that will press for the starting spot. Rosier will have one of the best receivers in the country to work with in Ahmmon Richards. Also returning is RB Travis Homer and WR Jeff Thomas. The offense will have plenty of weapons plus a schedule that should be very good. I expect the Hurricanes to be at the top of the ACC again and finish with a near identical record to last season.

17. Texas

30-1; BIG12 3-1

Returning Starters: 14

(7 offense, 7 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Projected Finish: 8-4

HC Tom Herman returns for his second season at Texas. The Longhorns had a very good defense last year that returns seven starters. DC Todd Orlando is also in his second season and expected to have a top 20 unit with lots of depth. The offense finished a not so good 99th under OC Tim Beck. The Horns have a favorable schedule and likely favorites in nine games. That means a 10-win season isn’t out of the question. QB will again be the question mark with both Shane Beuchele and Sam Ehlinger battling it out for the starting spot. This wasn’t an offense that made the big plays and that needs to change. Whichever QB starts will have lots of experience in front of them on the offensive line. This offense can merely be good for Texas to win 8 to 10 games.

16. Notre Dame

30-1; Independent N/A

Returning Starters: 15

(6 offense, 9 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Projected Finish: 10-2

As an Independent, Notre Dame will have a schedule filled with big name schools. The Irish open the season at home against Michigan with road games at Virginia Tech, Navy, Northwestern and USC. The issue with this kind of schedule is that you have letdown spots and the Irish must be careful not to lose those games. The Irish have lots of production returning this year, in fact they rank 20th in the country in that category. QB Brandon Wimbush returns as does RB Dexter Williams and WR Myles Boykin. The only issue is the depth at those positions is not very good. The defense returns 10 starters and should be outstanding. With a favorable schedule, the Irish can easily move up the rankings and have another excellent season.

15. Mississippi State

80-1; SEC 18-1

Returning Starters: 17

(9 offense, 8 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 9-4

Projected Finish: 9-3

Joe Moorhead is in his first year as head coach of Mississippi State, replacing Dan Mullen. Moorhead has a lot to work with as nine starters return on offense and eight on defense. He has a very good offense behind Nick Fitzgerald, who in the opinion of some NFL scouts might be the No. 1 QB selected in next year’s draft. He has a very good offensive line in front of him and deep running backs. Fitzgerald did get hurt in 2017, but his backup was freshman Keytaon Thompson who looked great in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The defense will also be very good, especially on the line where they are being compared to Clemson. This Bulldogs have tons of experience and could easily produce double-digit wins.

14. USC

40-1; PAC12 5-1

Returning Starters: 13

(7 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 11-3

Projected Finish: 9-3

HC Clay Helton begins his third season and we’ll have to see if he can keep pace with his 21 wins over the last two years. The biggest loss is QB Sam Darnold who went to the NY Jets in the first round. Sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears will likely battle for the starting job. The schedule has some pitfalls, mainly road games at Texas, Stanford and Arizona. I don’t believe the Trojans can be as good as last season, especially without a QB the caliber of Darnold. Expect a bit of a drop for the Trojans and maybe nine wins.

13. Penn State

25-1; BIG10 6-1

Returning Starters: 10

(7 offense, 3 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 11-2

Projected Finish: 10-2

Penn State came within two plays from a perfect 13-0 season and likely spot in the NCAA Championship Playoff field of four. Their loss to Ohio State when leading with under two minutes was tough to swallow. They followed that loss with one to Michigan State 27-24 with no time on the clock. Gone is Saquon Barkley, who went to the NY Giants in the NFL draft. The Nittany Lions do return an excellent offensive line that will having returning QB Trace McSorley and new OC Ricky Rahne for an offense that should be again loaded, even without Barkley. The challenge is a defense with only three returning starters. The schedule looks favorable for a conference title run with just Michigan as a road obstacle. This Lions may not be as good as last year, but it’s close.

12. Michigan State

30-1; BIG10 12-1

Returning Starters: 19

(10 offense, 9 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Projected Finish: 9-3

Michigan State returns 19 starters, more experience than any other FBS team in the country. If they can’t equal their 10-win 2017 season, then it might be a letdown with the kind of talent they have back. QB Brian Lewerke is back as are most of his wide receivers. The running game has been mediocre at best, though they return LJ Scott. As Big 10 schedules go, this one is not bad and could easily see the Spartans favored in eight or nine games. Another 10-win season shouldn’t be out of the question.

11. Michigan

10-1; BIG10 7-2

Returning Starters: 17

(8 offense, 9 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 8-5

Projected Finish: 8-4

The Big 10 will be tough again as the Wolverines are the third favorite to win the conference title behind Ohio State and Wisconsin. Michigan has tough road games at Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State – which could result in their four projected losses. HC Jim Harbaugh begins his fourth year with a 28-11 record in his first three years. QB Shea Patterson returns and could be one of the best since Harbaugh took over the helm. Michigan returns 17 starters and looks to have another excellent season. The only bad news, a schedule will be tough and could keep Big Blue out of the top 10.

10. Arizona

300-1; PAC12 15-1

Returning Starters: 16

(7 offense, 9 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Projected Finish: 9-3

What exactly is going to turn a 7-6 team from 2017 into a top-10 rated club? New HC Kevin Sumlin arrives from Texas A&M and inherits a team with 16 returning starters, led by Khalil Tate, one of the more mobile QB’s in the nation. Tate gives Sumlin a lot to work with, having rushed for 1,243 yards in 2017 for an average of 9.6 yards per carry and 11 TD’s. Tate, one of the Heisman candidates, will also have his top three targets back and plenty of experience on the offensive line. Arizona’s problem as always is defense. This unit ranked 112th last year but the issue had been youth and they return nine this season. If the defense improves, like I believe it will, the Wildcats have the offense to be a top-10 club. If not, then it’s going to be a long season in Tucson.

9. Auburn

15-1; SEC 8-1

Returning Starters: 13

(6 offense, 7 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 10-4

Projected Finish: 9-3

Auburn opens up the season against a top-10 team in Washington. Overall the schedule isn’t too bad as they play at Georgia in November and then finish with Alabama on Nov. 24. The game before the Alabama matchup is a softball against Independent Liberty, which should be interesting. HC Gus Malzahn is now the second longest tenured in the SEC behind Nick Saban. The Tigers should be favorites in most games, apart from maybe Georgia and Alabama. The strength will be returning QB Jarrett Stidham and a full contingent of wide receivers. The defense should be a top-10 unit again under DC Kevin Steele. The Tigers will have a shot at 11 wins, but Alabama and Georgia might have something to say about that.

8. Wisconsin

20-1; BIG10 11-4

Returning Starters: 13

(9 offense, 4 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 13-1

Projected Finish: 11-1

The biggest and latest news isn’t good for Wisconsin, which lost one of the top wide receivers in the country in Quintez Cephus, who took a leave of absence due to charges from an unspecified crime. That means the returning starters on offense drops to eight and because of this off-field distraction, I have dropped Wisconsin a few rungs in my rankings. The good news for the Badgers is that there is no Ohio State on the schedule. Their toughest games are road stints at Michigan and Penn State. HC Paul Chryst has returning QB Alex Hornibrook, maybe the best in the conference. The offense has nine starters back, which is great news. If Cephus can return, 11 wins for the Badgers is not out of the question.

7. Oklahoma

20-1; BIG12 6-5

Returning Starters: 12

(6 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 12-2

Projected Finish: 10-2

Gone is Heisman winning QB Baker Mayfield to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Still, this is the best team in the Big 12 and even money to win the conference title. The offense will revolve around RB Rodney Anderson. Kyler Murray has the legs to be a great QB, but the arm is questionable. The defense returns only six starters, but that’s ok since there were a lot of young players on last year’s squad that will step into starting roles. The Sooners are the team to beat in the conference, but won’t be as good as last year without Mayfield behind center. I still see a 10-win season, but doubt a final four spot at the end is in the cards.

6. Stanford

80-1; PAC12 5-1

Returning Starters: 15

(9 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 9-5

Projected Finish: 9-3

Speaking of Cards, Stanford is a top 10 team with a tough schedule featuring road games at Washington, Notre Dame and Oregon. Add home matchups vs. USC and Utah and the road ahead will be tough. However, four PAC-12 North crowns in six years shows that HC David Shaw is doing many good things with the Cardinal. If Stanford can solidify K.J. Costello at QB they can be great and not just good. Preseason Heisman favorite, RB Bryce Love, is one of the most explosive backs in college football. This offense will revolve around Love and that means Costello doesn’t have to be great, just good enough. I look for another excellent season out of the Cardinal.

5. Ohio State

6-1; BIG10 6-5

Returning Starters: 12

(7 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 12-2

Projected Finish: 11-1

The only thing keeping me from giving Ohio State a 12-0 record is the fact that they play in the Big 10 and that’s always tough. Plus, in addition to the usual opponents, they play TCU and Texas this year. HC Urban Meyer will serve a 3-game suspension for domestic abuse claims of an assistant coach just fired at Ohio State and will miss the TCU matchup. Still, 12-0 is possible as the Buckeyes are loaded with talent. Dwayne Haskins will take over at QB for J.T. Barrett and is a pure passer. The line is loaded, plus a full contingent of great receivers are back as is RB J.K. Dobbins. Even without Meyer, this is a well-oiled machine that will finish at or near the top four in the country.

4. Georgia

6-1; SEC 5-2

Returning Starters: 13

(8 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 13-2

Projected Finish: 12-0

The SEC schedule doesn’t look bad at all for the Bulldogs, who play LSU in Baton Rouge in what figures to be their toughest road test. With eight home games, Georgia could easily go undefeated and be right back in the final four come playoff time. HC Kirby Smart is in his third year and came within one play of a national title last season. QB Jake Fromm is back but may be pushed for the starting role by Jacob Eason who was hurt vs. Appalachian State. RB D’Andre Swift will be the feature back and should have a monster season. It appears anything less than a return to the NCAA Championship game will be a letdown for this Dawgs in 2018.

3. Washington

15-1; PAC12 5-8

Returning Starters: 17

(8 offense, 9 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Projected Finish: 10-2

HC Chris Peterson is in his fifth year at Seattle. The most difficult game on the schedule is opener Saturday at Auburn. Winning the rest of the games is a distinct possibility. QB Jack Browning is back as is RB Myles Gaskin. The Huskies also have a great receiver in Chico McClatcher. Washington has 17 returning starters from a very good team last year. The defense should be a top-10 unit again. I like the Huskies to be in the final four at year’s end.

2. Alabama

7-4; SEC 5-9

Returning Starters: 10

(5 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 13-1

Projected Finish: 11-1

Reigning National Champion Alabama beat Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship last season. The Crimson Tide returns just 10 starters, five on each side of the ball. However, that hasn’t kept the oddsmakers from installing the Tide as the favorite to win both the SEC and NCAA Championship. The SEC schedule looks to be almost a cakewalk for the Tide with only a home game against Auburn plus road matchups at LSU and Tennessee as even potential challenges. The one issue plaguing HC Nick Saban is the inability to keep coaches on his staff. Saban is on his seventh coordinator in the last four years. Georgia is a big challenge to the crown, though they wouldn’t meet until the SEC title game. I don’t think Roll Tide will be as good as last year, but they shouldn’t have much difficulty with this schedule and return to the NCAA Championship.

1. Clemson

4-1; ACC 1-2

Returning Starters: 15

(7 offense, 8 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 12-2

Projected Finish: 12-0

Clemson finished last season losing to Alabama in the national semifinals. The Tigers return 15 starters including seven on offense and eight on defense. Last year they weren’t supposed to be as good as they were without QB Deshaun Watson, but still made the playoffs and won the ACC. Back is QB Kelly Bryant who has a lot of weapons returning at wide receiver, including Hunter Renfrow. However, the backbone of the Tigers again is the defense. The return of both tackle Christian Wilkins and DE Austin Bryant was huge. They ranked 7th last year and will be even better. I believe Clemson has the best defense in the country and will ride it to a National Championship.